Step by the Step Process to File a Public Interest Litigation (PIL)

Last Updated at: Oct 16, 2020
Illustration of law concept
On 21st August, the Supreme Court rejected a PIL filed by an Ayurveda practitioner claiming that he has found a cure for Covid-19 and this cure should be used by the government across the country. Apart from rejecting the plea, the court has also imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on the Ayurveda practitioner.


Officers shouldn’t waste time drafting replies, shut ‘PIL shops’: Govt to SC The Solicitor General said ‘professional PIL shops’ must be locked down until the country and the world emerge from the crisis.


A Public Interest Litigation is a powerful tool developed by the judiciary in India to help sensitized citizens approach the court, even when they do not have a personal interest at stake in the matter. This judicial invention was first thought of by Justice P.N Bhagwati and has been a cornerstone of legal activism in India.

Here are the steps through which you can invoke this powerful remedy for a multitude of public wrongs – from the felling of trees to illegal construction:

  1. Who may file a PIL – A PIL may be filed by any person before the court with the only condition being, that the cause of the matter should be fairly certain to affect a large number of people. There is no statute that defines a PIL, so the threshold of ‘large number of people’ is decided on a case to case basis. Further, if a group of people approaches the High Court of the Supreme Court, it may by itself appoint an advocate to help the group advance their case.
  2. Who can you proceed against and how – Sending a legal representation or a notice to the other party against whom case is being filed is also extremely important. Since most countries including India, follow principles of natural justice in the course of litigation, which state that no one should be condemned unheard, it becomes imperative to give a notice that sufficiently delineates the grounds for proceeding against them, to afford them a suitable opportunity to present their case before the court. A PIL may be filed against a private person, any government department, body corporate or any other artificial person subject to laws.
  3. Underscoring the right research – Doing your research is often considering the most important element of filing the PIL. The average rate of admission of PILs in India is around 40-60 percent. This means that out of every 10 PILs filed, at least 4 are rejected. Thus, if you’re going to present a matter before the court, be thoroughly prepared with the facts and issues relating to the matter. If you’re planning on arguing yourself in the court, you should be skilled in the art of persuasion and presenting facts in a short span of time. Even if you’ve engaged an advocate for this purpose, you’ll have to work with them continuously to ensure that no relevant material is missed. It is also important to retain all communications you may have made with the opponent party, including telephonic records, letters or notices. You may also want to showcase pictures (with time stamps) to bolster your case.
  4. Battling expenses – While filing a case in itself is not expensive, it takes only Rs. 50 per respondent as court fee to file the PIL before the High Court or the Supreme Court. However, any litigation in India, including PIL is a long drawn process and may leave a deep hole in your pocket, unless you’re working with a pro bono legal advisor or court appointed advocate. There are often provisions under various acts for minimum time periods to be adhered to, so you may have to stick around longer if any Government department/Ministry/Official is involved. Two copies of the petition, if filed in the High Court and five copies, if filed in the Supreme Court have to be furnished alongside a proof of service of notice to the other parties.
  5. Arguments in the Court – Once a case is accepted by the court, the court would begin hearing arguments. However, if it’s is a matter that demands immediate attention or the urgency is such that any delay may aggravate the issue, the Court may appoint Commissioners to look into the same and advise the court on the matter.
  6. The Decision and how it may permanently affect the issue in question – After hearing both parties, the judge gives a decision. It is important to understand here that the decision given by a judge may change the fate of the issue. For example, a much debated case of an environmental PIL arose when a botanical garden society questioned the granting of a license to construct a resort in the middle of a forest to the Taj Group. The judges of the Supreme Court had disposed off the PIL stating that the Taj Group had taken relevant licenses and was best-equipped in working towards developing the aesthetics of the region. Thus, not all PILs finally lead to positive outcomes. However, the judges of the court often, through interim orders, final orders and directing an appropriate authority to look into the matter have brought justice to many.

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Avani Mishra is a graduate in law from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal. She qualified the Company Secretary course with an All India Rank 1 and is a recipient of the President’s Gold Medal for her academic distinctions. She also holds a B.Com degree with a specialization in Corporate Affairs and Administration.